Pink is the colour of spring and hope for 2020 in China

Spring has arrived in a world that is still in the grip of the COVID-19 epidemic. However, the epidemic is clearly on its retreat in China and the nation’s food and beverage suppliers are celebrating this with an outburst of pink-coloured products. This blog does not require a lot of explanation; the pictures speak for themselves. Moreover, this post is a good overview of China’s most popular foods and drinks at this moment.

Domestic brands

Mengniu Dairy

Yili Dairy

Shipin Puzi (nuts, seeds, etc.)

Xiangpiaopiao, the top manufacturer of the immensely popular milk tea

Bee & Cheery (Baicaowei) (snacks, candy)

Rio (cocktails)

Hsufuchi (candy, biscuits)

International brands

A commendable number of international brands is participating in this pink spring campaign.








Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.


From milk to candy and back to milk – co-branding Chinese style

I originally wanted to post this product on the Trends page of this blog, as a notable innovative product. However, thinking more about the history of how the White Rabbit brand has developed (also see my post on candy), I believe it deserves a separate mini-post on the main page.

Indigenous milk candy

White Rabbit Creamy Candy was originally manufactured by the ABC Candy Factory of Shanghai in 1943, when a merchant from ABC tried a milk candy from England and thought that the taste of the candy was not bad. After half a year of development, he then manufactured the factory’s own brand of milk candies. The main ingredient is not raw milk, but sweetened condensed milk, the oldest indigenous industrial dairy product in China. The oldest producers was Baihao, established in Zhejiang province in 1926. The first ABC milk candies were packaged using a red Mickey Mouse drawing on the label, and were named ABC Mickey Mouse Sweets. As their prices were lower than imported products, they became widely popular among the people.

In the 1950s, ABC became a state-owned enterprise. As Mickey Mouse was seen as a symbol for worshiping foreign countries, the packaging was redesigned to feature a White Rabbit and an artist’s paint palette with Chinese and English hand-lettering in a colour scheme of red, blue and black against a white background. The result was a distinctive candy label design that became instantly recognizable around the world. Initially, production of the candies was capped at 800 kg per day, and they were manually produced. In 1959, these candies were given as gifts for the tenth National Day of the China. In 1972, Premier Zhou Enlai used White Rabbit candies as a gift to American president Richard Nixon when the latter visited China. The White Rabbit brand was transferred to the Guanshengyuan Group in November 1997.

See my post on candy for more details about the product, including its formulation.

White Rabbit Ice cream

Although the White Rabbit brand already had some history, its popularity worldwide has grown with the economy of China. Demand is increasing, especially during the Chinese New Year period, when many families provide White Rabbit sweets among other candies for visitors. The product generated a turnover of RMB 320 mln in 2013. The candies are now exported to more than forty countries and territories, including the United States, Europe and Singapore. On December 2, 2017, Wong’s Ice Cream of Toronto, Canada unveiled the first ice cream flavour made from White Rabbit Candy.

This association with ice cream has made Guanshengyuan to launch an ‘ice cream flavoured’ version of its candies. See my post on candy for more details on the formulation.

Starbucks and White Rabbit – cross-cultural co-branding

Starbucks is known for its attempts to grow roots in local markets by adding its own versions of local delicacies, like selling moon cakes for the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival. The company also occasionally serves White Rabbit Candy Frappe. According to a blogger, the it is made with two simple ingredients from Starbucks: Syrup Creme Frap and Brown Brown Butter Shortbread Sauce. If this is correct, Starbucks is only using the brand name and a picture of the original candies. The product itself seems unrelated to White Rabbit candy.

White Rabbit cosmetics

The brand is so attractive that it has been licensed to a number of cosmetics products. The first is White Rabbit Lip Balm, produced by Maxam. It is a limited-edition product and sold out in seconds on the online retailer, Tmall. The product has ingredients including essences of sweet almonds and olive. Shen Qinfeng from Guanshengyuan, stated in an interview: “How to make our brand younger, as well as adding nostalgia and emotion, is something we have been exploring.”

White Rabbit’s popularity in Singapore has given birth to a range of cosmetics, including shower cream and body lotion. While you could say that lip balm is still related to food, as you will gradually swallow it, these products are exclusively for external use. However, the background picture does include ice cream, so there is at least a subtle allusion to food.

White Rabbit milk

The most recent development is that Shanghai-based Bright Dairy launched a White Rabbit flavoured milk. The package tells us that this milk is ‘milk candy-flavoured’. It is like stating that a tangerine tastes like tangerine candy. White Rabbit Milk is the product of Chinese culture. It is the result of a strategic alliance of two major Shanghai-based companies, reflecting the strong regional chauvinism in Chinese culture (also see my post on the various food capitals in China). I have noted in several posts in this blog that the creamy flavour of milk is still not generally accepted in China. Shanghai could be the region in China with the highest acceptance of milk. Shanghai people often like to brag about their love for milk and dairy products. This is why China’s first milk candy was developed in that city in the first place. Now the success of the White Rabbit brand is used to create synergy with another old Shanghai dairy brand. It is not sure yet, whether White Rabbit Milk will be as successful as White Rabbit Candy or Bright Milk, but I will keep you abreast on this blog.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

Candy in China – not only for the eyes

China was the world’s second candy exporter in 2019 with a value of USD 910.8 mln (8.6% of the global exports)

I have already mentioned candy in some of my posts, like the huamei candy as an example of how a traditional sweet is used in China as an ingredient for a novel food, a company like Hsu Fu Chi that is one of China’s top biscuit producers, but also makes candy. As most Chinese have a sweet tooth, it is time to dedicate an entire post to the Chinese candy market.

Top 10 candy brands of 2016

Brand Share (%)
Hsu Fu Chi 17.46
Alpenliebe 6.86
Madajie 5.22
Golden Monkey 4.73
Extra 4.35
Yake 3.77
Wrigley 3.52
Big White Rabbit 3.37
Orion 3.29
Fujiya 3.26

Hsu Fu Chi and Orion also rank among China’s top biscuit brands.

The global top 100 candy companies list for 2023 for the first time included a Chinese company: Shenzhen-based Amos Sweets. It came in at the 95th position, but after several food safety incidents in the past couple of decades, this is an accomplishment worthy for a congratulation.

Top regions

The following table shows the regional breakdown of candy production in China in 2017.

Region mt
National 33,136,510,000
Fujian 8,081,420,000
Guangdong 6,684,470,000
Hunan 3,002,380,000
Shandong 1,880,940,000
Hubei 1,765,570,000
Henan 1,716,370,000
Shanghai 1,487,180,000
Sichuan 1,352,090,000
Anhui 1,267,100,000
Jiangxi 1,185,240,000
Jiangsu 1,061,970,000
Hebei 928,590,000
Guizhou 599,630,000
Chongqing 482,510,000
Qinghai 460,200,000
Zhejiang 261,020,000
Beijing 259,160,000
Shaanxi 209,500,000
Yunnan 164,630,000
Hainan 99,850,000
Xinjiang 78,870,000
Tianjin 62,500,000
Shanxi 33,800,000
Liaoning 9,040,000
Guangxi 1,440,000
Ningxia 5,60,000
Inner Mongolia 530,000

The first three regions alone are already good for more than half the national output. The regions not included in this table do not produce (significant volumes of) candy. The value of the Chinese candy market is expected to reach RMB 414.8 billion in 2020. The country has produced 1,062,252.2 mt of candy in the first 5 months of 2020; Fujian was the largest region good for 37.44%.

The most typical Chinese candy

Candy is a rather Western thing, but if you want me to identify a ‘traditional’ Chinese candy, my first choice will be dabaitu, ‘Big White Rabbit’ milk candy, produced by Guanshengyuan in Shanghai (est. 1918).


It is a white soft nougat-like candy. Before wrapping, each candy is wrapped in thin edible rice paper. This is meant to prevent the candy from sticking at your fingers and can be eaten along with the rest of the candy. The ingredients as listed on the packaging are:

Edible glutinous rice paper (edible starch, water, glycerin monostearate), liquid maltose, sugar, whole milk powder, butter, additives (gelatin, vanillin), corn starch, syrup, cane sugar, butter, and milk.

Each candy contains 20 calories. Older Chinese still remember Guanshangyuan’s original slogan: Seven White Rabbit candies is equivalent to one cup of milk. It is therefore positioned as a nutritional product. It is still extremely popular. This product alone generated a turnover of RMB 320 mln in 2013. For decades, there was only the original vanilla flavour, but new flavours, like: chocolate, coffee, toffee, peanut, maize, coconut, lychee, strawberry, mango, red bean, yogurt, and fruit have been added. An ‘extra creamy’ variety has also been launched. The latest addition is ‘ice cream flavour’. According to the packaging, the ingredients are:

Liquid maltose, sugar, whole condensed milk, whole milk powder, cream, additives (gelatine, vanillin, food flavours), edible glutinous rice paper (edible starch, water, glycerin monostearate).

The difference with the traditional candy seems to be small, and mainly in the use of flavours.

For more about the White Rabbit brand, see my special post on this topic.

Tradition slowly forgotten (?)

I don’t want to make northerners think that I have a special liking for Shanghai, so I would like to introduce another traditional candy, that is much older, but less well known outside China, that Big White Rabbit creamy candy: crispy shrimp candy. ShrimpCrips

These are traditionally made by rolling a chunk of hot molten sugar into a thin sheet, covering one side with sesame paste, and rolling it up into a cylinder that is finally cut into candy-sized pieces. It is a traditional treat from North China that has been adapted to industrial production in the course of the 20th Century. They are being produced up to the present day, but many older consumers find that the flavour and texture of the current shrimp candy do not match that of the tradition product. Perhaps it has something to do with ingredients, but it can also be a matter of nostalgia, the feeling that nothing tastes as it did before.

Wedding candy – a typically Chinese category

A very Chinese type of candy is wedding candy, or as the Chinese put it: ‘happy candy (xitang)’. Handing out candy is part of every Chinese wedding ceremony. Newly weds often bring some to the workplace to hand out to colleagues who have not attended the ceremony. You can use any candy, but candy makers have started identifying wedding candy as a special market segment and have increased R&D efforts to develop special candy with suitable flavours and colours, and packaging, for this special moment in a couple’s life. Insiders estimate the #Chinese market for wedding at RMB 16 bln, with still considerable growth potential.


Foreign markets

Chinese candy is finding its way to foreign market. A good example is Jinli Candy Co Ltd, a candy producer established in 1984 in Huairen county of Shanxi’s Shuozhou city. In 2010, the company began to export its candies to the Netherlands and in 2011, it established a cooperation relationship with the US Disney company. In 2015, it was listed among suppliers for the US-based Wal-Mart, becoming one of the few Chinese candy producers to enter the European and American markets. Over the years, the Jinli Candy Co has sold its middle-high-end candies to over 13 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Russia, Spain, and Belgium. In 2014, the company’s exports reached $1.5 million.


China Candy in international limelight

Ever Maple Flavors and Fragrances Holdings, under control of Kelly Zong, daughter of Wahaha founder and chairman Zong QInghou, has acquire China Candy Holdings in May 2017. The mother company is based in Fujian province and manufactures and sells candies under the Holeywood brand in China, South East Asia, North America, Europe, and internationally. The company’s products include jelly drops candies, aerated candies, hard candies, and chocolate-made products. Rumours about this take over had been around for months. Ms. Zong is also chairman and executive president of Hongsheng Group, beverage producer recording turnover of RMB 5 bln per year. It looks as if she is following her father’s footsteps in building a food and beverage conglomerate, though focused on what Chinese like to refer to as leisure foods and drinks. This move also proves that the Chinese confectionery industry is currently maturing to a global level.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation.

Leisure food – A food group strongly embedded in Chinese culture

The existence of a category like leisure food in Chinese food statistics is rooted in the laid back nature of Chinese culture

Entering a typical Chinese supermarket and looking around at the distribution of foods and beverages on the shelves, one indication that may strike you as unfamiliar, of even odd, is ‘Leisure food’, xiuxian shipin in Chinese.

Leisure and food are a match made in heaven in any culture, but there is no nation that created a more harmonious marriage between those two concepts than the Chinese. Visit any historic site in a Chinese city, and you will be amazed about the choice of snacks and drinks that are on sale in small shops or by street vendors.

When you then zoom in on the domestic tourists, you will have a hard time spotting one who is not eating or drinking, or at least visibly carrying food in their bags, ready to take it out and have a bite.

Before getting to those sites, or scenic spots, you need to travel. China is a huge country, so travelling can take time, and the best way to kill time in any culture is . . . eating. Chinese airports, train stations and long distance bus terminals are genuine food streets, offering everything the easily bore passengers may want to keep themselves, and their facial muscles in particular, busy. Eating has thus become the favourite way to pass the time on long haul rides in China.

Chinese high school and university students are also an important consumer group of leisure foods. Bakery products and meat snacks are their favourite foods during breaks.

All this has led to the coining of the category leisure food in the Chinese food industry.

It has become an officially recognized term. The library of Eurasia Consult has a collection of Food Industry Yearbooks starting with 1985 until the early 2000s, when the Internet rendered those paper information carriers unnecessary. Leisure Food is a separate section in those books, like the separate shelf for those products in Chinese supermarkets.

Leisure food is a hybrid collection of foods comprising:

One source divides leisure foods in the following subcategories:

Type main market customers outlets consumption mode
Private consumption home family members Residential areas, special shops, convenience stores At home
Travel food travelling travellers local special shops, supermarkets , airports, railroad stations, tourist spots Travelling, gift giving
Gifts Gift giving people in need of gifts special shops, supermarkets Gift giving

What I especially like in this division is the category of ‘gifts’. It always a nice gesture to bring home local delicacies when returning from a trip. And with a country as large and varied as China, there are more local specialties than a person can bring home in a life time. Moreover, gifts play a key role in Chinese culture. This is why Chinese airports and larger railway stations sell local foods in fancy gift packaging. People do not buy those to eat themselves, but to give them to relatives and friends.

The following graph shows the market shares of various categories of leisure food of December 2019.

Market size and value

There are more than 4000 manufacturers of leisure food in China.The leisure food industry in 2018 was worth RMB 1029.7 bln; up 12%. Insiders expect that the value of this market will reach RMB 1298.4 bln by 2020.


It is an interesting market for suppliers of food ingredients. Preservation is key term here, not only referring to keeping the bugs out, but also the preservation of the flavor, color and texture.

This sector is also an interesting market for suppliers of food packaging machinery. All of the above mentioned products need to be packed in small portions, that can be conveniently stowed in ones pocket or hand bag. The preferred size is the single-portion package; a pack you open and empty in one leisurely moment, without the need to close and seal it for the next moment.


Trends for 2017

  • Leisure food should be tasty, novel and healthy. Snacks are by definition tasty. Consumers will only make repeat purchases and remember the brand if a snack is delicious. Chinese consumers are eager to try new leisure foods. As long as a product is novel and interesting, they are willing to give it a go. As Chinese are becoming increasingly health conscious, growing numbers place great emphasis on the nutrition facts of nibbles, such as those that are low in sodium, sugar and fat. This also includes additives in general. If more flavourings are added in order to create exciting taste, it can may Chinese consumers, who are now avid readers of ingredients lists, suspicious.
  • Small Packs are the trend. A very prominent trend is packs are getting smaller and smaller. Factors driving the growing demand for leisure food in mini packs are convenience, hygiene, pricing and visual impression. Mini packs can satisfy consumers’ demand for “convenient and hygienic one-off consumption”. They are particularly popular with female consumers who prefer snacks that can be eaten in one go. With large packs, if the food inside cannot be consumed straight away after they are opened, some consumers would not want to eat it again afterwards as they would consider it to be neither fresh nor hygienic.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.